Cut & Thrust: Malik mystique in Kashmir

Most people are curious as to why Satya Pal Malik has been sent to J&K as governor at this crucial time. The general reaction being Malik, who? Instead of a bureaucrat or a retired general, which has been the norm, why a career politician this time? When you lift the hood and inspect the power train, you realise there is a method to this decision.

Fade to black.

Rewind to December 8, 1989, after much tumult and controversy with a VP Singh National Front government recently in place, a tumultuous event has taken place. Union home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter Rubaiya has been abducted by JKLF militants and the world has turned upside down. Top erstwhile Jan Morcha leaders arrive at the house of Sayeed, where he is inconsolable as Arun Nehru, Arif Mohammad Khan and Satya Pal Malik are trying to convince him to appear on the national television to say that she is the nation’s daughter and it’s imperative that she must be set free. But a tearful Sayeed has lost all reasons to think, overcome by extreme emotion, for obvious reasons. He refuses to do anything – stunned and struck by inertia.

Just six days earlier Mufti Saheb had taken oath as the first Kashmiri Muslim home minister in VP Singh’s government. Not knowing what was to follow? At the same time, JKLF’s Asfaq Majid Wani wanted to do something spectacular in Kashmir Valley and was restive. His charter was to kick-start the ‘revolution’ and he didn’t know where to begin. Watching the oath taking of Mufti Saheb, he thought of an audacious PLO type of plan to rattle the newly formed government. The original plot, conceived by Wani, was to kidnap Mufti’s son, reportedly a doctor in Lal Ded hospital. But once recces were carried out, the son turned out to be a daughter – Dr Rubaiya Sayeed. As she finished her shift and left for home around 3 pm on December 8 boarding a bus at Exhibition Crossing, JKLF militants took over the bus with Wani and others following in a car. Around 5.30 pm, JKLF top brass Javed Mir called up Kashmir Times and relayed the news of abduction of the Union home minister’s daughter’s. All hell broke loose, with phones ringing non-stop in the Valley and Delhi. The triumph of VP Singh slaying Rajiv Gandhi was lost in translation as panic gripped the mavens. After 122 hours in captivity, against the wishes of then J&K chief minister Farooq Abdullah, five top separatists were released for Rubaiya. It became a watershed moment for Kashmiris as they brought India to its knees. Since then the trajectory in Kashmir has been southwards.

Earlier, in what was a politically significant year – 1989 – this cataclysmic event ushered in an ignominious end. An imperiled Rajiv Gandhi found that he was surrounded by enemies from within, much like Julius Caesar, as he searched for Casca, Cassius and Brutus. Reshuffling his cabinet, he expelled his cousin Arun Nehru and perceived ulcer VP Singh from the Congress, pressured Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Dosco colleague Arun Singh to resign. Bofors was snowballing and the alleged betrayers VP Singh, Arun Nehru, Arif Mohammad Khan unfurled the banner of revolt against the Rajiv Durbar. Muzaffarnagar in western UP became ground zero, a la Gunfight at OK Corral, as the troika hit the ground running backed by two Congress heavy-hitters – MPs Satya Pal Malik and Ram Dhan. VC Shukla made up the list of high profile Congress dissidents. At a massive show of strength where cries rent the air – Takht badaldo, taj badaldo, baimaano ka raaj badaldo (Change the throne, change the crown, change the rule of corrupt), Gali gali mein shor hai, Rajiv Gandhi chor hai (In every street, they say Rajiv Gandhi is a thief) and Mr Clean, Mr Clean, gandi kyon hai tope machine (Mr Clean, why is not the – Bofors – gun clean?) – in the raucous atmosphere, Malik spoke first highlighting communal hatred and its impact on Meerut and areas in and around the city. The same Malik was an integral part of the team that toppled Rajiv Gandhi.

The short point being that Malik knows the Mufti family well, ergo including Mehbooba Mufti till recently chief minister of the state before the BJP pulled the plug on it. On his arrival in Srinagar, Malik was received by Farooq Abdullah who only days earlier had shouted Bharat Mata Ki Jai and Jai Hind at Hazratbal Mosque on Eid. Yes, I am trying to connect the dots to ascertain why Malik? Which translates into Malik knowing both the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party leadership well. So, has the BJP with its muscular approach, which led to Kashmir Valley’s ruin over the last four years, decided to course correct? The default mechanism was to send the jackboots trooping into south Kashmir.

Now let me introduce another deadly element into this game of thrones. Malik studied at Meerut with national security advisor Ajit Doval, something that Malik himself has revealed in Meerut last year and was not known about Doval at all. Malik is, in fact, a socialist, a Lohiaite and as he said at his alma mater Meerut College just last year when he visited as the Bihar governor, he would always prefer to be remembered as a socialist. Interestingly, Doval who is handling J&K was a law student at the same Meerut College, a connection that often counts in politics. There is no mention of it in Doval’s published profiles, however. So, is he the NSA’s candidate for the ‘iron fist, velvet glove’ approach in Kashmir, where dialogue from within the Governor’s House will be a real possibility? A dialogue with principal political players and perhaps, the separatists as well. A human touch after endless blood-letting.

Malik was the farmer face of the Jan Morcha having earlier been with Charan Singh’s Lok Dal, which he joined in 1974. He was elected to the UP Assembly at that time. Next, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha twice – in 1980 as the Lok Dal candidate and in 1986 as the Congress candidate. He was disqualified from the Rajya Sabha when he started attending VP Singh’s Jan Morcha meetings, and later became the Union minister of state for parliamentary affairs in the Singh government. I read somewhere that he finally joined the BJP in 2004, almost apologetically at the time, finding himself with no political space. His relations with Ajit Singh, Charan Singh’s son, were non-existent and became worse when he contested elections against him from Baghpat, Malik lost.

On Sunday, a pro-active Malik met defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman at Raj Bhawan in Srinagar. With killings and abduction of policemen and their families on the rise, the Mujahideen have resorted to a new tactics in the Valley. Obviously, the meeting between the defence minister and the governor must have assessed the security situation along the Line of Control and hinterland of the state, in the main south Kashmir, the epicentre of violence. Earlier in the morning, the defence minister, accompanied by army chief General Bipin Rawat, visited a forward post in north Kashmir. North Kashmir, which has for long remained outside the ambit of violence, has suddenly seen a spurt of activity with the Mujahideen obviously trying to increase the arc of combat warfare. Sitharaman visited Balbir Post where she interacted with troops of the 28 Infantry Division. She is the first defence minister to visit the Balbir Post. This comes on the back of a delegation of BJP, led by state president Ravinder Raina, meeting the governor on Saturday over issues related to development in the state. Issues related to a significant number of roads, bridges, and other development works, were raised by the group. Further, they also apprised the governor about problems being faced by the Kashmiri migrants, including their rehabilitation, provision of basic amenities in migrant camps in Jammu and elsewhere, and protection of their properties and temples from encroachments in the Valley.

The governor also met home minister Rajnath Singh recently to discuss the forthcoming election to local bodies in the state. Given the climate of violence in the Valley, it is imperative that these elections are conducted in a transparent and peaceful manner. The panchayat elections to elect 4,130 sarpanch and 29,719 panch are expected later this month. Last held in 2011, after a long hiatus, the elections to local bodies were to take place in 2016 but could not be conducted due to the five-month-long unrest in the Valley, following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016.

It is clear that the so called muscular policy predicated on Islamophobia and Muslim bashing has been consigned to the rubbish heap for the time being. A political appointee means a political solution could be on the anvil, something that the Valley craves for. Contrary to popular perception, Malik is not a Sanghi, but a socialist, a big admirer of Sheikh Abdullah and Ram Manohar Lohia. The Valley is currently roiled by the legal challenge in the apex court to Article 35A, which lets the state legislature define “permanent residents” of J&K, giving them certain rights and privileges, and prevents non-residents from acquiring immovable property. Rumour mongering in the Valley peaked last week when the Supreme Court refused to hear this contentious matter. Pertinently, the governor’s rule can last only six months, after which the President directly rules the state. Perhaps that is why Malik is trying frantically to build faith. Stand by for some sort of breakthrough shortly, at least in terms of all-party deliberations where the Unified Command’s inputs are duly considered.

@sandeep_bamzai

Columnist: 
Sandeep Bamzai